Back when I first started homeschooling, I believed I had to teach my son everything he needed to know. And by “everything,” I mean “EVERYTHING.” Woe to firstborn homeschoolers and their thorough, yet misguided, parents.
There are a couple of problem issues wrapped up in the whole “teach everything” myth. The first is that teaching our children everything they need to know is an impossible task that even schools cannot achieve. It’s a notion that often overwhelms and sours the homeschool experience with tension and worry. I certainly felt the need to plan and teach so that nothing would be missed, and my son had the burden of keeping up with the schedule this demanded (and our approach was more relaxed than others I knew). He grew up smart and capable in spite of this beginning, but it did nothing to kindle his love of learning.
Another problem with the “teach everything” mindset rests in our widely-held concept of teacher. Modern schooling holds us personally responsible for what children learn and don’t learn which, in turn, has us micromanaging their lives as well as their thoughts. But, learning is not a passive activity where information can be injected or downloaded from one to another. In the book For the Children’s Sake, author Susan Schaeffer Macaulay rightly notes: There is no education but self education. I’m sure we all recognize this, and yet our system is designed for a steady one-way flow of data.
Honestly, we have now elevated the Mentor/Parent to a position that foolishly competes with God. He who teaches man knowledge—the Lord—knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath. (Psalm 94:11). We do have influence, but it’s meant to be used in support of God and our students. Furthermore, by dictating what, when, how, and how much our children learn, we deny them an active role in the learning process. Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge. (Proverbs 23:12). The responsibility for learning, then, is concentrated in the wrong place which throws everything out of off balance.
Mentors ought to practice more restraint than we’re used to.
What do I mean by this? Compare these two scenarios…
After watching a Between the Lions video, my youngest, who was 6 years old at the time, asked me about silent ‘e’. Instantly, I detected a “teachable moment,” grabbed some 3”x5” cards, and launched into “teacher” mode. I demonstrated how words like can turn into cane and then proceeded to scratch out more examples to drive the point home…not/note, hop/hope, kit/kite, pin/pine…
One after another, I placed these cards in front of my daughter and asked her to read them. She did. But almost immediately, I saw her countenance fall; her body slouched and her eyes drifted. My interested student had just left the building and warning sirens sounded in my head. I had overstepped!
Right then, a memory from my high school years came back to me…
It was a night like many others where I found myself struggling with some Chemistry homework. I understood a couple points, but they were like two pieces of a puzzle that didn’t quite fit together. A key piece was missing that kept me from seeing the bigger picture. So, I went to my dad for a clue as to what it might be.
Well, as one might expect from someone with a Ph.D in Physics, I didn’t exactly get the targeted answer I was hoping for. Instead, I got a well-intentioned and eagerly delivered dissertation on the subject of Chemistry. My eyes glazed over as an entire box of puzzle pieces rained down upon me. By the end of the lecture, I’d lost the pieces I’d been holding onto in the first place, and the missing piece was still missing.
Like my father before me, my daughter had come to me with a simple wonder-driven question and I had seized the moment. She had shown interest, so it was my job to respond. But, what I failed to recognize was that she was in the midst of connecting specific dots in her mind. I had pulled her away from that, hijacked her thought process, and turned her simple question into an exercise, a drill. One or two examples would have been much more constructive.
While schooling is a race for rapid mastery, learning is a series of small steps on a longer walk.
A more leisurely pace allows us to stop and smell the roses and we take in so much more of what’s around us. But, if we are constantly running, the world passes by in a blur and details are missed. Most homeschoolers are perfectly positioned to reevaluate how we approach education and make the adjustments needed to slow down. Unfortunately, however, many of us remain obedient to our school system upbringing. Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16).
Of course, the initial steps taken in support of God and our children will probably be clumsy ones. In fact, we’re likely to stumble a lot at first. I did. Over time, however, I became much more mindful of how I respond to inquiries. I’ve learned to shepherd my disciple by giving her clues that prompt further thought instead of quick answers. Certainly, when we’re not bound to a curriculum that moves us along at an unwavering pace, there is plenty of time to fit pieces of knowledge together. The result is the building of an intellectual foundation and not just an academic one.